HomeLocalMalnutrition cases rise as Covid-19 restrictions take a toll on Zimbabweans

Malnutrition cases rise as Covid-19 restrictions take a toll on Zimbabweans

BY MELODY CHIKONO

SEATED under a mango tree at her rented apartment in Lusaka, Highfield, a high-density suburb south of Harare, Sharon Gomwe (37), a single mother and vendor, ponders on what to do to secure food for her family of four.

Since the onset of the lockdown, life has not been easy.

The movement restrictions mean that she is no longer able to sell second-hand clothes from which she earned a living.

The strange perception going around Harare that second-hand clothes actually used to belong to people that have died from Covid-19 has not helped matters.

Feeding her three children is now proving difficult because she has no other source of income.

Her youngest child has recently been taken ill and at the clinic she was told the child is malnourished and requires better food.

As she sits under the tree, deep in thought, she is disturbed by a health worker, who joins her and begins to talk about measures to prevent the pandemic.

As the conversation gets deeper, the health worker stresses the importance of nutrition during this period.

But Gomwe says to herself: “Who cares about nutrition when one cannot afford even a single meal?”

The media has been awash with messages on how to prevent Covid-19, but the issue of nutrition is seldom talked about.

While ironically, the pandemic has caused obesity in some families owing to lack of exercise during lockdown, for Gomwe and many other poor families, the lockdown has meant food shortages and malnourishment.

This is the situation that most informal traders in Zimbabwe find themselves in.

They have been locked in their houses without food; their means of income forcibly stopped as government clamps down on street vending and other activities.

The government has not put any social security nets in place to assist the majority of Zimbabweans, who depend on buying and selling on the streets. As a result, many people in Zimbabwe are going hungry in their homes during this pandemic.

The emergence of Covid-19 has brought about disruptions along food supply chains that complicate the transportation of food to markets while restrictions of movement impact access to markets by consumers.

Loss of jobs and therefore incomes in the face of interruption or lack of social protection mechanisms has become a pertinent issue in most developed counties.

Inevitably, nutrition is heavily compromised in a huge number of families in poor nations and children bear the brunt of this situation.

But director in the Department of Nutrition and Food Safety, World Health Organisation (WHO), Francesco Branca, stressed that the protection of children’s nutrition during the Covid-19 pandemic was uppermost on the organisation’s priority list.

However, the Joint Malnutrition Estimates (JME) published in April 2021 revealed insufficient progress to reach the World Health Assembly targets set for 2025 and the Sustainable Development Goals set for 2030.

In his presentation during the Global Nutrition and Food Security Reporting Programme, Branca said children and adolescent obesity had also increased during Covid-19 pandemic.

“Food systems are comprised of a set of dynamic and interlinked sub-systems,” he said.

“However, the transformation of food systems requires a series of transition steps, which can be distilled into four distinct policy objectives: producing the right mix of foods in sufficient quantities to deliver sustainable, healthy diets; ensuring those foods are readily accessible and also affordable to everyone; and ensuring that they are desirable to all consumers.

“The following are the five urgent actions to protect children’s rights to nutrition in the Covid-19 pandemic:

“Safeguard and promote  access to nutrition, safe and  affordable diets, invest  in improving   maternal   and child  nutrition through   pregnancy, infancy and early childhood, reactivate and scale up services for the early detection and treatment of child wasting.”

Branca stressed the need to maintain the provision of nutrition and safe school meals for vulnerable children as well and to expand social protection to safeguard access to nutritional diets and essential services.

Branca noted that changes in dietary behaviours, increased food intake and unhealthy food choices including potatoes, meat and sugary drinks were noted during the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

“Food insecurity associated with financial reasons represents another concern,” he said.

“During the Covid-19 era, children, adolescents and young adults gained weight.

“Moreover, as the restrictions imposed reduced movements out of the house, physical activity was limited, representing another risk factor for weight gain.”

Holistic Health coach Rumbidzai Mukori said too much of good food could also be bad during times of Covid-19.

Mukori said it was important to be extra cautious when taking herbal remedies as medicine especially as more and more communities now regard home remedies as good and more effective than clinical treatment.

“Knowing the correct dose is just as important as taking the right remedy or food,” she said.

“Let food be the medicine and medicine be the food.

“But remember to take the correct dosage because too much of a good thing can also have negative impacts on your health.

“Have you heard that this food, tea, herb can prevent coronavirus?

“How many times have we heard this, and maybe even tried the different solutions advised by family, friends, social media and other sources of information that is claimed to be helpful?

“But very little scientific or research has been proffered to support these claims.

“Many of us have seen how the coronavirus has brought a range of health remedies that are said to be key for boosting immunity, some of which are legit and others that are merely a myth.”

Mukori also took time to explain  how the most popular home-made remedy to fight Covid-19 —zumbani — is a crucial nutritional element.

“When asked to comment with regard to nutrition and the importance in the fight against coronavirus, the first herbal remedy that I always speak about is zumbani,” she said.

“This is one of the most popular herbal foods that are recommended for boosting immunity, both as a preventative and treatment food remedy.

“Zinc is found in a wide range of foods, but it is essential in higher doses when one is feeling sick.

“Foods such as lean meat, chicken, eggs, beans, peas, nuts, seeds, lentils and soya products are good sources of zinc too.

“These are your everyday foods, which we usually eat, so you can see how you are already taking immune-boosting foods daily already.

“The difference comes, when you feel sick or are diagnosed with coronavirus when it is mandatory for you to take some form of zinc supplementation.”

She said should the health workers up their game in terms of teaching about nutrition, there could be better immune systems to talk about in these pandemic times.

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